Henryk Szlajfer: Why I Will Not Take Part in Poland's Official Observation of the Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, Warsaw. Photo: Fred Romero. via Flickr.

This open letter by Henryk Szlajfer was first published in Polityka. Translated by Zbigniew Kowalewski.

In 1968, Szlajfer, a student of the University of Warsaw and militant of the Polish opposition led by Kuron and Modzelewski, was expelled, together with Adam Michnik, from the university. On March 8, 1968, a rally, violently repressed by the police, took place in their defense, which marked the beginning of mass student movement in Poland. He was sentenced to 2 years in prison. He was militant of Solidarność and the movement of workers’ councils in 1980-81. He is economist and political scientist. Follower of Baran’s and Sweezy’s theory, he co-edited The Faltering Economy: The Problem of Accumulation under Monopoly Capitalism (Monthly Review Press, 1984) and contributed to this book with an eminent study and development of the concept of economic surplus.

Warsaw, 15th April 2018

Dear Mr. President,

A few days ago I received your personal invitation to participate in the official celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. I regret to inform you that I cannot accept your invitation. I am writing about "regret," because in other circumstances the participation of the President of the Republic of Poland in this ceremony would be a commendable remembrance of Jewish heroes who, though left alone and yet aware that their struggle is part of a common resistance against the German machine of extermination, fought against SS General Jürgen Stroop's troops.

Without going deeper into the causes of my decision, let me just note that the activities of the political camp with which you are bound are contrary to the values for which the insurgents — as well as tens of thousands of other Jews in partisan units, urban conspiracy or in the armies of the anti-Nazi coalition — fought. Those, in fact privileged, who gained access to weapons (or even only to the Molotov cocktail), Zionists of various factions, scouts from Hashomer Hatzair, Bundists, socialists from Poale Zion or communists, took up the fight in Warsaw, but also in other ghettos and extermination camps, in the name of human dignity and freedom-fighting tradition. “Scabs” (parchy) from various political camps and orientations (did you react to this imagination-stirring expression used by one of the leading journalists of your political camp?) went to fight together and died together.

I mention this because the “rewriting” of history being promoted today leads to, among other things, brutal interference in the history of Jewish resistance and uprising. Let me remind you that the representatives of your political camp managed to oppose — by manipulating street names — Bundist Marek Edelman (Mordechaj Anielewicz’s deputy in the uprising) and communist Józef Lewartowski, co-organizer of the multi-party resistance block in the Warsaw ghetto in the spring of 1942. Blind ignoramuses and doctrinaires from your political camp, the true blasphemers, cannot, as you can see, understand that the anti-Communists — socialist Edelman and Zionist Mordechaj Anielewicz — could fight against German troops hand in hand with a handful of communists. I did not hear you protest in support of the appeal of all major Jewish organizations in Poland in this matter. By remaining silent, Mr. President, you accepted this brutal act of interference in the history of Jews, Warsaw, and Poland. I did not hear your voice when the voivode from your political camp refused — under an absurd pretext — to turn on sirens to commemorate the young, only 24-year-old commander of the uprising and his companions on 19 April. But you as well, Mr. President, last year, during your visit to Israel, accomplished a kind of miracle. In your speech at the Menachem Begin Heritage Center, in a long paragraph about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising you managed not to mention the name of the organizer and the main force of the uprising — the Jewish Combat Organization. It is as if you spoke about the 1944 Warsaw Uprising without mentioning the Home Army.

Jewish insurgents from the Warsaw ghetto deserve more than the presence of people representing the currently ruling political camp in front of their monument on April 19.

I am handing this letter over to both your hands and to the hands of my friends and other interested persons and institutions. I am writing about issues of public life, and these, I think, should be publicly debated.

Yours faithfully

Henryk Szlajfer 

Professor emeritus, the Institute of Political Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences